CNNU campus correspondent Johanna Peace is a junior at Wellesley College. CNNU is a feature that provides student perspectives on news and trends from colleges across the United States. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based.
Wellesley, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Sang-Hee Min and her college roommate met each other this July and began planning for their year together. During the summer, they chatted about shared interests, discussed ground rules for living together, and agreed on what to pack.
Samantha Pillion logs onto Facebook to stay connected to friends and campus activities.
But as their relationship grew closer, the two girls couldn't have been farther apart -- Min lived in Seattle, her roommate in New York. This fall, when they arrive at Wellesley College as entering freshmen, they'll finally see each other in person for the first time.
Min is just one of the many college freshmen who will be stepping onto campuses this fall with a jump-start on their new social lives, thanks to friendships they've formed during the summer on the social networking site Facebook.com.
When Facebook first launched in 2004, it required a valid ".edu" e-mail address to join, meaning that only current college students could create profiles. But after Facebook opened to high-school students in fall 2005 -- a move that boosted the site's membership to 5.5 million users -- it was suddenly easier than ever for students to start getting ready for college early.
Now, by using Facebook to communicate with each other and with upperclassmen at their colleges during the summer months, freshmen are arriving at school with ready-made friendships waiting for them on the first day.
According to Min, Facebook helps ease the anxiety of going off to college by giving incoming students a sense of what to expect.
"Personally, I'd rather meet [people] in person, but Facebook has been a great tool to get to know fellow students before getting to campus," she said. "Without it, I would probably feel much more lost and unprepared about going to Wellesley than I am now."
Mike Niconchuk, an entering freshman at Tufts University, has also used Facebook to establish a wide network of contacts this summer. Niconchuk signed up for Facebook in 2005, just after it opened to high school students, and started searching for college friends as soon as he received his acceptance to Tufts.
By joining the Tufts network and entering groups devoted to the class of 2011, he found it easy to identify others with similar interests. Soon, he'd added over 120 other Tufts students to his friend list.
Though Niconchuk admits he'll "probably never cross paths" with most of the people he's chatted with online, he does feel that some of his Facebook friendships will last.
"I got to know a few people surprisingly well," he said. "Religion, politics, sex, love lives, all of it is talked about. We're just normal friends at this point." Niconchuk said he expects to spend time socializing with several of his online friends when they arrive at school.
In addition to being a facilitator of friendships, Facebook also serves a practical purpose for many incoming college freshmen. On college message boards within Facebook, entering students can interact with each other and with knowledgeable upperclassmen, trading useful tips and advice about starting school.
"Most of [my Facebook friends] are fellow freshmen, but I do have a few older friends at Wellesley as well. They've been extremely helpful with advice on what to bring, what to be aware of, and have answered my many questions concerning dorms and classes," Min said.
Facebook also gives students a chance to contact their future roommates, as Min did, making it easy to get acquainted and to discuss the logistics of setting up the dorm room on move-in day.
But despite the benefits of preparing for college using Facebook, students do admit that online networking takes some getting used to.
Kat Campbell-Conlon, an entering freshman at the University of Western Ontario, says she's glad for the friends she's made on Facebook; at the same time, she says, "There is always the underlying suspense that they are not [the same] in person as they are online. Sometimes it's easier to meet people in person because then you can judge body language and vocal tone."
Niconchuk, too, recognizes the difficulties of translating Internet friendships into face-to-face ones. "[Online,] you don't know how honest someone is being about themselves. You can't detect any gaping and obvious annoyances that would be easy to see in person," he said.
Samantha Pillion, an incoming freshman at Wellesley College, agrees that Facebook friendships aren't necessarily built to last. She has used Facebook to chat with her roommate and to establish contacts with leaders of the ballroom dancing club that she hopes to join, but she's waiting to meet most of her college friends in person.
"It's harmless to chat with people in groups and get to know the kind of people you'll be meeting. But it's more important to meet people on campus, it will be much easier for these friendships to grow," she said. "Facebook should just be a starting-off point for meeting new people, and more importantly, a way to keep in touch with people you meet in real time." E-mail to a friend
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